If any solace can be taken from the death of a married couple associated with Roberta Place, it could be they left this world within 24 hours of each other after a half-century of love and travel.
The Barrie long-term care home on Essa Road has been in outbreak since Jan. 8 when it was declared by the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit. In total, 70 deaths have been attributed to the outbreak — 66 confirmed and three considered probable, all residents. One essential caregiver associated with the 137-bed facility also died after contracting the virus.
Not much was known about the essential caregiver until Natasha Capling opened up about the tragedy.
Beverley Moffatt, 83, was Capling’s step-grandmother who was living at Roberta Place. Moffatt died on Jan. 24 and her 86-year-old husband, Sonny Van Tassell, who was providing care, died the day before.
Married for almost 50 years, the couple was inseparable, even with Moffatt residing at the long-term care home in the city’s south end.
“He was there like clockwork to take care of her,” Capling said. “He was there daily to help with bathing her and to do her hair.
“They were very sweet together.”
Van Tassell and Moffatt met on a golf course in New Brunswick decades earlier and it was no surprise to anyone that’s where the romance began.
“They were avid golfers. Like, always golfing,” Capling said. “Grandpa was from Digby, N.S., and they somehow met when he was in a men’s league and Bev was in a ladies’ league. They became partners and it took off from there.”
Van Tassell was in the Canadian Armed Forces and was eventually stationed at CFB Borden, west of Barrie. Moffatt began a job at the Angus branch of the Bank of Nova Scotia, where she remained for 30 years.
“They lived in Angus for as long as I can remember, but again, with golfing, they did a lot of travelling,” Capling said. “We’d have them for Christmas and they were off to wherever the warmer weather would allow them to play. They played until they couldn’t physically play anymore.”
Capling says until he contracted COVID-19, Van Tassell’s health was OK.
“Two years ago, Grandpa golfed nine holes before coming to my wedding,” she said.
In 1996, Moffatt suffered a brain aneurysm that began to hinder her ability to walk. Van Tassell took care of his wife as long as he could from their home, but a fall one day changed that.
“Grandpa did his best, but Bev was getting worse with her mobility. One day she fell; he tried to catch her and they hit the table,” Capling said. “That was the signal that they both needed more help.”
Moffatt chose Roberta Place in 2017 as where she wanted to live. Van Tassell would take Moffatt out for a date day together from time to time, until COVID hit and she had to stay inside the facility.
“He was going in to help with her. Obviously, no one else was and it was supposed to be safe. But that virus really went fast,” said Capling. “Grandpa always spoke very highly of all the staff.”
It is believed they both contracted the virus around Jan. 14. Van Tassell was hospitalized on Jan. 18.
“At one point, the doctors told us he was making good progress and would likely be able to leave soon. Then they called us and said there was nothing they could do,” said Capling. “His condition changed so fast.”
Van Tassell died Jan. 23 around 6 p.m. Moffatt passed nearly 24 hours later.
“Everyone loved them, everyone. When they were in Angus, people loved them. Everyone knew them at Borden and they were a great couple at Roberta Place,” said Capling.
There are currently no active cases among residents at the Roberta Place long-term care home and there haven’t been any new cases announced since Jan. 27. There have also been no new deaths reported since Feb. 2.